Gender Roles in 'The Handmaid's Tale': Rape Culture and Victim Blame

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Margaret Atwood's novel 'The Handmaid's Tale' has many controversial gender roles that we are similarly still facing today in the twenty first century. Gender roles are clear traditional perceptions of what society expects the person to be and/or act based on their gender. The topic of gender roles in 'The Handmaid's Tale' is explored through the plot of the novel as well as its characters.

Being born a male means having masculinity traits. Males are generally seen with great strength, being indepent, the aggresive type, with economic succsess, and overall the more dominant sex. While the females are supposed to be the total opposite. Females are allegedly supposed to be viewed as the weaker ones, dependent on their spouse, more passive, maternal, and not as bright as males. Which is why the men's roles are to control the family dynamics and are in service to themselves while the women's roles are service to the men, become mothers, and household duties. Of course this mirrors well with what's actually going on in our world where men and women are still being examined differently as well as in the novel. 'The Handmaid's Tale' has very serious scenes where it praises troubling behavior regarding sexual assault. It’s unequal for not only our current society but the society of Gilead to believe this way of thinking when we see and hear that women are forcefully going through sexual violence on a daily basis and not being able to obtain freedom of personal choice and emotions. These problems are significant because if not taken seriously we as the people won't be able to strengthen or appreciate our expressions of creativity and knowledge, increase the process of productivity on our own personal terms, and importantly grasped the enjoyment of life as individuals.

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Atwood's Depiction of Gender Roles in 'The Handmaid's Tale'

The traditional gender roles in 'The Handmaid's Tale', the women's jobs are based upon their skills. They must be submissive towards the men who exploits and oppresses them in the society who are also no longer to have any sort of independence and are undersurvalliance at all times. Their one and only job is to stay at home with the commander and the wife she is assigned to. Offered is one of the main Handmaids in Republic of Gilead that was forcefully put into a group to bear a child to stay alive. “So, you’re the new one, she said...I’ve read your file. As far as I’m concerned, this is like a business transaction'. This shows how the government trades off the handmaids for business purposes. This is a form of dehumanizing the women as animals and sex slaves in Gilead. When a handmaid is doing her job she is taken to the doctors once a month to get checked if she is fertile. “It’s time.Today or tomorrow...why waste it? It’d only take a minute honey...We are all honey'. The not only the government but the doctor is taking advantage of the Offered. The play on words he chooses with “honey” is comparing directly to the bees. The handmaids like Offred are identical to female bees who are workers that do the task of housekeeping and nurture for the baby larvae. While the male bees are alike to the commanders when one of their duties is mating. “I wait, brushed, fed like a pig.”(5) Offred is treated like an animal with being branded with numbers, brush, literally fed, and breeding like purpose. When exploiting and dehumanizing a person you make them seem less than a human being. This increases the cruelty of breaking their human rights. “I have been denied a society in which women are encouraged, or even allowed to think of themselves as the first-class citizens and responsible human beings...all clearly-stated, sole reasons that I am a woman.” In his article Testimony Before Senate Hearings on the Equal Rights Amendment written by Gloria Steinem tells her own personal experience like many others where women are supposed to have rights but is being denied as if she is not human. When the handmaids are unwillingly used for performing sexual acts for their ritual breeding process they cannot leave, as if they are slaves. “There wasn’t a lot of choice.” Offerd knows that she doesn't have a say to give consent when the commander is having sex with her, she must comply.

Women's Struggle With Sexual Coercion 

Another big picture that is present in Atwood’s novel is rape culter, but goes into details when referncing to sexual violence. The handmaids who are all women, are objectified, along with being restricted by the state from freely expressing their views, bodies, and voicing their opinions. The government had this idea where they controlled all the females and are then required to get pregnant based on their physical health, regardless of what they say as a result of being born a female. Many people back then and in some strict countries today, don’t allow any females to get an abortion if they wanted to. “Rita say to Cora that she wouldn’t debase herself like that...what could you do supposingly?..Go to the colonies, Rita said. They have a choice'. This is a perfect example where the Marthas know that the handmaids duty is very degrading towards women. In the article “Waves of Feminism, and Why people keep Fighting over Them, written by Constance Grady explained that social equality was needed when females did not have a choice like men, when respecting their existence as a women. “Sex, and relationships, and accsess to abortions, and domestic labor...fundamental to the fight for women equlity.” All of these subjects are still very important to women all over the world. The case that is still relevant today and slowly helped women's opportunity for determining abortions or help an indivual to plan a family based on her circumstances is Roe v. Wade. This case granted women to have reproductive freedom unlike Gilead. The government of Gilead had the females became a un-women to be sent to the colonies where you would work hard labor and starve to death or carry a child to remain alive as a women. So technically the handmaids did not have much of a choice when living in Gilead because they'll be miserable either way. They lost their general reproductive freedom in having options to reproduce and are pressured into sexual coercion.

Victim Blaming and Feminist Movement

Similar to the topic of sexual coercion, the Handmaids face another example of rape culture, victim blaming. In the novel it is acknowledged when a specific handmaid, Janine goes through a trail like process at the place of The Red Center. “It’s Janine, telling about how she was gangedraped at the age of fourteen and had an abortion'. Victim blaming is a wrongful act where a group of people is holdiong a person at fault for something awful that occuered to them. “But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump fingers. Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison'. The Aunts who are in charge of the handmaids causes everyone blaming Janine for having an abortion from getting gangedraped. When testifying the aunts re-educate the handmaids into believing whatever trama you go through is a sin for which the person is responsible for. Janine is then later brainwashed into believing what had happened was because of her, which made Offered guilty for taking part of it. Relating to the twenty first century, there are times where people blame the victim into thinking that it's their fault that the incident took place. Which is why a female named Tarana Burke, took into consideration and campaigned an organization called the MeToo Movement. “Her goal was to spread message to survivors: “You’re heard, you’re understood.”, claimed by Constance Gradysounds. The movement is a positive feeling where women empower each other through empathy of being sexually assualted and/or abuse.


Most would agree that the society of Gilead is a dystopian community where it has no good conditions for anyone. The government is very overpowering for enforcing traditional gender roles of the of what the woman's place are. The women are trapped and are not allowed to do or say anything that would hurt themselves as handmaids. Which is why women should have the right to obtain freedom when being restrained from their independence as individuals. Offered had to speak and act like everything is fine but when in reality it was not. They suffer a lot of humiliation and injustice like many other women go through today in the twenty first century. So for us to grow as a society we need to remain ignorant free and not limit anybody's personal freedom based on thier sex, culture, and race as an individual and to respect everyone equally.   

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